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Techwire One-on-One: Social Services Agency’s New CTO Talks Tech, Procurement

“Working with vendors to discuss emerging technologies and services will be valuable in my role at DSS. I look forward to leveraging those vendor partner relationships to bring future innovation and efficiency to DSS,” said Richard Gillespie.

Richard Gillespie
Richard Gillespie
As part of Techwire’s ongoing efforts to inform readers about state agencies, their IT plans and initiatives, here’s the latest in our periodic series of interviews with departmental IT and cybersecurity leaders.

Richard Gillespie is the assistant deputy director and chief technology officer for the California Department of Social Services (DSS). He’s been in state government since 2015, after working for years in the private sector. He began the public-sector aspect of his career with the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD) as a supervisor in the Enterprise Infrastructure Group, then moved to the California Department of Technology (CDT) in an executive role, as branch chief over cloud, infrastructure, and compute and storage services. Three months ago, he was named to his current dual role in DSS.

Gillespie, a Rocklin resident, received his bachelor of science degree in business (IT, management information systems and services) from University of Phoenix, and he earned his master’s degree in public administration degree from Arkansas State University.

Techwire: Please describe your new role in two or three sentences?

Gillespie: As the assistant deputy director (ADD) and chief technology officer (CTO), my role is to collaborate and build relationships with leadership, Department of Social Services Information Services Division (ISD), program areas across the department, vendors and strategic partners to develop innovative technical solutions that meet the department’s business needs and help advance the mission of the department. I look forward to partnering with the ISD team to progress on the great work they have already accomplished in the areas of standardization, process development and creating cost-effective efficiencies in our technology service offerings.

Techwire: Given your dual roles, how do the duties break down? Which role is more tech-heavy?

Gillespie: In my role as the ADD, I serve as the chief adviser to the CIO, Sandy Ynostroza, and the DSS directorate on policy decisions, addressing IT issues, requirements, new and emerging technologies, and service levels. In my CTO role, I am responsible for providing technical expertise, establishing and maintaining technical standards and best practices, and providing day-to-day technical operational oversight to the ISD organization. The CTO role is the more technical of the two roles.

Techwire: Are you involved in procurement? Do you meet with vendors?

Gillespie: In my role as ADD/CTO, I have a role in procurement and vendor relationships. My work in these areas is supported by my previous roles at OSHPD and CDT. Working with vendors to discuss emerging technologies and services will be valuable in my role at DSS. I look forward to leveraging those vendor partner relationships to bring future innovation and efficiency to DSS.

Techwire: You spent years in the private sector before going into state service in October 2015. What does the private sector do better than the public sector? What does the public sector do better than the private sector?

Gillespie: I was in private industry for more than 20 years, including 11 years as an IT consulting company owner. During my time in private sector, my focus was on my client or their customers. The reason I joined public service, and especially DSS, was because I want to help people. I want to take the skills and experience I developed and use them to help the people of California. That is the most significant difference; in public service, I have the opportunity to help people on a different level than I did in private industry.

Techwire: What big initiatives or projects are coming from DSS in 2021? What sorts of RFPs/RFIs should vendors be watching for in the next six to 12 months?

Gillespie: Several strategic initiatives and projects are currently being evaluated and prioritized, including but not limited to developing our ServiceNow deployment and looking at more opportunities to leverage cloud and emerging technologies. We also have an enterprise document management system and facility management system that are in development.

Techwire: How many employees are in DSS’ IT organization? What’s the department’s approximate annual budget for IT?

Gillespie: I am fortunate to be part of a team of 221 talented and dedicated people. DSS procured around $15 million in IT goods and services for the 2020-2021 fiscal year, based on the California eProcurement website. Next year’s budget is still in development.

Techwire: For a good part of your career, you were a self-employed tech entrepreneur. How does that experience influence your decision-making and your actions as ADD/CTO of a large department?

Gillespie: Having that deep technical background and experience with a mindset of innovation is valuable. But the ability to pair that with my experience in relationship building, business insight and consulting is a significant advantage. It gives me the ability to work closely with the program areas to develop business requirements, frame business problems and develop technical solutions to solve those problems.

Techwire: In your tenure in the private sector and now with the state, what project, achievement or initiative are you most proud of?

Gillespie: There are so many things I have been fortunate enough to be a part of within the state that I am proud of. I am most proud of my participation in providing engineering oversight for California’s COVID-19 response. My role was to develop governance around the data collection and reporting processes used by state decision-makers during the COVID-19 response. I then worked closely with the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), providing engineering oversight for the CDPH California Reportable Disease Information Exchange (CalREDIE), the system used to track California COVID-19 testing, and the California Immunization Registry (CAIR2), which is the system that tracks the California vaccine response to COVID-19. I also participated in the implementation of, the system used to help facilitate the scheduling and delivery of the COVID-19 vaccine and the development of CA Notify; this was a system that leveraged Bluetooth technology on your cellphone to notify people of possible exposure to someone that tested positive for COVID-19. Working with the team at CDPH and various other departments and a dedicated team of people at the California Department of Technology and strategic partners, I believe the accomplishments we had as a team helped save lives.

Techwire: For those who haven’t worked with you, what should they know about you? What’s your style? How do you like to be contacted by vendors?

Gillespie: My style is rooted in collaboration and communication. I am very open to new ideas and innovative ways to solve business problems. I believe that business drives IT, and IT’s role is to continually evolve to support program areas and business units to provide services to help the people of California. I have been fortunate enough to work with some great leaders in the state that share my belief in empowering and enabling people by creating inclusiveness and opportunities.

Techwire: Over the course of your career, have you had a “digital hero,” either in the public or the private sector?

Gillespie: I have been lucky enough to work with many “digital heroes” during my career. Most recently, during my time with CDT, a few “digital heroes” stand out. Stephanie Allen and Ron Robinette from the CDT Office of Statewide Project Delivery were key partners in the California COVID-19 response. Jamaal Price, the CDT cloud architect, is another example of a “digital hero,” demonstrating technical leadership developing and implementing several innovative and emerging technologies.

Techwire: What do you read to stay abreast of technology in the public sector?

Gillespie: I read Techwire, of course. I also read, among other things, Gartner, Government Technology*, StateTech and Nextgov. Constant self-development is essential to me. I have a good grasp of technology and a plan to stay current, but I decided to expand my knowledge of public service, so I am currently completing my Master’s in Public Administration.

Techwire: Are you working remotely or in the office? Do you enjoy working from home? Will you continue to do so, or will you return full time to the office?

Gillespie: I am currently working remotely and enjoy its flexibility; however, I miss the face-to-face interactions with my team.

Techwire: What would you like to share about yourself personally? Family? Pets? Hobbies?

Gillespie: Despite the struggles of 2020, I was lucky enough to become a grandpa “P-Pa” for the first time. My son and daughter-in-law had a son in October 2020. I started 2021 on a great note; I got married in January to my fiancée of 12 years, Amy (I didn’t want to rush it). My daughter graduates high school this year (“Go Wildcats”). I am a dog lover; I have two dogs, Ally and my buddy Cosmo, my officemate at home. I enjoy traveling, and I am looking forward to some trips when it is safe to do so.

Editor’s note: This interview has been lightly edited for style and brevity.

*Government Technology magazine is part of e.Republic, parent company of Techwire.